“At the Codfish Ball” was precisely the tonic we needed after weeks of heavy and impactful episodes. Sunday’s show rates for me as about the most fun Mad Men has ever been. We enjoyed the brilliant team of Sally and Roger—a regular Laurel and Hardy in the making—and the refreshing, seductive antics of Megan’s mother. Though it was something of a hoot, the typical Mad Men machinations certainly didn’t ground to a halt. We saw new light for some characters, and others got sucker punched.
We should start with Don, who impressed me the most in Sunday’s episode. Last week I talked about how Don was attracted to chaos, and how it’s inevitable that he’ll relapse into his adulterous (or otherwise self-destructive) ways. Nothing here suggested otherwise, but I bright it up because I thought it was great to see him trying so hard to do the right thing. He clearly wanted to embrace Megan’s parents, something that the Don from three seasons ago wouldn’t have even bothered with. Despite the fact that the response from the in-laws was a little extreme—the mother wanted to sleep with him while the father despised him—what matters is that Don seems consciously dedicated to making this marriage work. We’ll see if he can keep it up.
Don also experienced something of a revival. For the first time all season he was involved in a pitch, and a successful one at that. I found it interesting that his success was very much tied with Megan. We didn’t see him come back as a one-man army as in seasons one through to four; here, he very clearly needed Megan to help him right the ship. The bang-bang play was brilliantly executed, from Megan finding out that they were about to be cut, to Don prolonging the meeting in order to buy time, to Megan insisting that Don begin the pitch there and then, to both of them pretending that the idea of having the same woman and boy play the mother and son throughout the advertisement was the executive’s original idea, not theirs. . . It was, in a word, flawless.
And what an episode for Megan! She proved not only that she takes the work seriously and that she’s dedicated to it, but more importantly that she’s very good at what she does. And we saw how impressed Don was. That confirms what I was thinking: not only did he not understand that she really wanted to be a part of the firm (he didn’t realize she was upset when he pulled her out of work in the previous episode), but I’m fairly sure he didn’t know that she was a good copy writer. If he did, he wouldn’t have been so surprised and so glowing. It’s a backhanded compliment to Megan, but I think Don now understands how valuable Megan is both as a spouse and as a teammate, and that’s a very positive thing.
Speaking of revivals, how about Roger? He’s already back in freewheeling form. He was dropping one-liners left, right and center—and good ones at that—and the fact that he petitioned Mona to help him snipe clients suggests to me he’s found the eye of the tiger again. As aforementioned, I thought his time with Sally was priceless. I’m savoring it; I don’t know if we’ll ever see them team up again, but it was superb while it lasted.
While I was most impressed with Don, I think the most interesting sub-plot of the night was Sally’s. Glen Bishop never disappeared. He’s gotten marginally less creepy over the last year, but I still find his bizarre relationship with Sally to be a little scary. What’s going on between those two? What is that? I don’t know. Maybe it seems a little off because his character is disturbing. I suspect that if Glen was a sophisticated young prep-school boy their chats wouldn’t be as bothersome to me. I’m also not surprised that Sally found a way both to sexualize herself and to walk into a sexual situation on the same night. We’ve discussed before how the poor girl has been screwed up by her mom and by her parents’ relationships. Don told her to wash off the makeup she’d applied, which I thought was good; later she happened to saunter in while Megan’s mom was blowing Roger. She knew exactly what she was seeing (even though the camera angle was terrible). But more notable to me was her discussion with Glen. Her last line (she described New York City as “dirty,” though of course she was talking about sex) was a nice, loaded statement, but more peculiar was her response to Glen when he mentioned breaking up with his girlfriend. He explained that breakups are tough, and she retorted, “Not for the girl!” Huh?
If that statement seemed weird and out of place it’s only because Sally sounded so adult beforehand. She was having a disciplined, albeit lighthearted, conversation with Glen, and then out of nowhere, “Not for the girl!” . . . it just seemed so childish. The reality, I’m thinking, is that Sally’s development is so out of whack that some of her personality is adult and some is still juvenile. She’s never been in a romantic relationship (we’ve never seen her with a boyfriend) so we shouldn’t expect her to understand what a breakup feels like. At the same time, she’s seen more than enough sex for a little girl. She masturbated well before her time, she likely surmised that her father was seeing other women, and now she walked in on Roger and Megan’s mom. Being Sally must be like ascending an Escher-like staircase. Some steps go up, then some dip way low, and the next step is too high to reach.
I want to close with a thought and an admission that I was wrong: I keep on expecting some plot points from each episode to carry over, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen this season. I thought we’d see more from Lane’s girl from the season opener; I expected to see some aftermath from Pete’s office brawl; I thought Betty’s cancer scare would continue. As other writers observed this week—I think I read it on the AV Club recap—Season Five just doesn’t want to be serialized. You guys were right; it seems like most of these episodes are one-shots after all. I don’t think Mad Men has been like that since the first season. How do you feel about that? And what do you think of Peggy and Abe? I’d love to talk more about Sally as well. Fire away in the comments!